Monday, May 27, 2013

mLearning - The One Ipad Classroom

I had the wonderful opportunity of going go to Dallas last March to attend the TESOL 2013 Convention.  It was great, not only participating in workshops, plenaries, and a variety of presentations, but also meeting other English teachers and exchanging ideas and experiences with them.

Before choosing the presentations I wanted to attend, I focused on the ones which involved technology in the classroom or the ones related to practical activities for EFL classes. After attending so many presentations related to these topics, I came across the theme: The one iPad classroom.  The concrete ideas I was introduced to made me feel enthusiastic to use more technology in class. In this post, I would like to share some of those ideas related to the use of only one iPad in an English class.
Although we are in the 21st century and technology is all around, teachers still face difficulties in having computers available for each student in all the classes of the course. Having iPads in the classroom is a trend, but not the reality we have today. Only few schools offer iPads to the students’ use in class, and even then, teachers have to share those iPads with their co-workers.

What I would like to show here is that, if a teacher has his/her own iPad, she/he can make use of it in class and benefit students with technology. Or, if the school provides one iPad for teacher use only, it is still possible to make a profitable use in class.

Here is a list of apps that can be used in class and my suggestions for their uses.

PingPong ScoreBoard Lite (Lin Huangchun)

This app is wonderful to score points when using a game in class.  The teacher does not need to stand and score the points on the board anymore. The teacher may use the projector for the game, and the iPad for the score.

Stick pick (Buzz Garwood)

This app helps the teacher to call on students in a fun way.

Timer (Francis Bonnin)

This app is very useful to establish time for the activities. Students can keep track of the time they have to do the activities.

Bola de Cristal HD Free (CATEATER, LLC)

It is useful if you are working the second Conditions. Students formulate questions, the teacher shakes the iPad and the students see the answers in the projector. They usually have a lot of fun.

Word Game: Taboo – Free (Yasarcan Kasal)

Students sit in pairs, facing one another. One student sits back to the boards. The teacher projects the word on the board and the other students has to describe the word avoiding the taboo words.

Tap Roulette (Laan Labs)

Students have a lot of fun. It is useful to decide which student answers the question, or in many other situations. Up to 5 students tap the iPad using one finger and the program chooses only one person.

Doodle Buddy for iPad – Paind, Draw, … (Pinger, Inc.)

The teacher can call on one student at a time, offer an iPad pen, and ask the student to draw something related to what is being studied so that the other students have to guess. The image is projected on the whiteboard.  Alternating students, they have a lot of fun.

Dice!  (Russel Gray)

Games are part of our classes. Teachers can vary the way of scoring them by giving dice (in the iPad) so that students have to roll it and get the points. They have a lot of fun!


there are many free books for young children which you can project on the board and read to your students or even play the audio.


Having one iPad available in class when working with literature books reading, facilitates students access to the meaning of the words. The iPad can be connected to the projector so that the other students of the groups have access of the definition of the words.

These suggestions will provide an opportunity for teachers to reflect upon the use of technology in the classroom taking into consideration the many ways of using iPads with students, even if there is only one in class.

Dare, innovate, ask experts, read for extra information, but put in practice everything you know and see what can happen if you have the will to go beyond.

After pointing out these suggestions, I would like to add that I strongly believe teachers must never give up going the extra mile and looking for challenges to enhance their careers. I would like to thank Casa Thomas Jefferson for giving me so many opportunities to improve my teaching skills and make myself a better teacher.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Teachers, it's Talking Time!

Attending an international conference is such a rewarding experience. You learn so much and you exchange so much knowledge. There were many presentations I loved, but I’d like to share one that I found particularly interesting.

This presentation had a curious title: “Let the Teacher Speak!” At a time when most methodology books, teacher developers and evaluators insist on the importance of reducing TTT (Teacher Talking Time),  and of providing more and more opportunities for students to speak, this title sounded... well, peculiar.

However, there was nothing peculiar about the presentation. On the contrary, the presenter, Dr. Brian Tomlinson, a prolific writer since the 70s, had some very interesting points to make. First and foremost, he argued that the issue was not how much the teacher talks, but what he/she says, or in his own words, “it’s not the amount. It’s the quality.” He added that, perhaps, what needed to be reduced is Teacher Teaching Time, but Teacher Talking Time should actually be welcomed.

The reasons why a teacher should speak more in a class are: (1) it provides exposure to the target language; (2) it engages learners cognitively and affectively; (3) it develops a positive rapport, and (4) it provides communicative feedback. I started thinking of my own classes, and I realized that this is true. Students do engage when we tell them anecdotes. They start seeing us as human beings, and they can relate to that. It gets them thinking and isn’t it something that we often complain about; that students don’t think?...

Of course, Tomlinson doesn’t propose that we turn our classrooms into mindless chit-chat hubs. Remember he mentioned quality, not amount! He proposed some activities that include a great amount of teacher participation, such as reading a poem or a short story and engaging students in a conversation about it. It’s OK for us to talk in the classroom. We should remember that, for some students, the teacher is the only model they have to go by. The important thing is not to lose the teaching/learning perspective.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

IATEFL 2013 - Pronunciation for Listening

One of the talks I attended at IATEFL was Pronunciation for Listeners – Making sense of connected speech, by Mark Hancock. I already knew Mark from his blog and his published materials, so I made it a point to attend his talk. It was certainly worth it!

The best part was to know that I wouldn’t have to copy anything or take pictures of the slides. I already knew that Mark is all about sharing his materials and his talks and was certain that, later on, I would find everything online.

Sure enough, in his ELT page with Annie McDonald, Mark has posted the handout and the recording of his talk.  Thus, rather than reading my summary of his presentation, you can experience it first hand.

Mark’s talk was useful in demonstrating to the audience that pronunciation is also a listening skill and that it isn’t always easy for students to know where one word ends and the next begins when they listen. Thus, we need to train our students to listen, and to do so, we need to develop in them an awareness of the supra-segmental features that come to play in natural speech, such as elision, assimilation, and the like. To this end, Mark suggests a series of what he calls micro-listening activities that are really fun.

Among my favorite ones presented at IATEFL was the –ed = t maze. Students have to work their way through the maze by going from one –ed = t combination to the next. The interesting thing about it is that he presents the verb and an object that starts with a vowel so that they can practice the elision that is so common in verb + object combinations such as “booked a room”.

Check out the recording of his talk and his handout. He also has an article and an interview on this topic. Make sure you also explore his website full of rich resources for effective pronunciation teaching.

Friday, May 10, 2013

IATEFL 2013 - On Listening Tasks and Tests


Attending and presenting at both TESOL and IATEFL conferences was a rewarding experience.  I always have two different perspectives when I attend and when I conduct a workshop. Attending a conference is a moment in which you see new trends in language teaching. We have contact with different and often revisited  viewpoints of what we sometimes  believe are unchangeable truths, and we have the priceless opportunity to meet old and new friends, professionals  who have a lot to share with you. As a presenter, I feel that a conference is a moment for networking and assessing the repercussion of the material you have been developing. Both are very motivating and make us want to share and learn even more. It is a never ending endeavor. I am sharing here an enriching presentation that I attended at IATEFL Conference in Liverpool, 2013 - Listening tests and tasks versus listening in the real world – by John Field (Oxford University Press). The talk outlined the types of mental processes involved in listening. Then it evaluated whether recorded material, formats, and items of conventional second/foreign language tests really tapped into this processes. Finally, suggestions were made for new forms of teacher-designed test and task that are more closely linked to real-world communication needs and to the listening construct.

Listening is a process taking place in the mind of the listener. The only way we can test the skill – or check understanding in the classroom – is indirectly - by asking questions. ELT teachers have to ask questions for three reasons: to test, to check understanding and to diagnose listening problems. This already distances the behavior of a learner or test candidate from that of a real-world listener. Then, what does a language test actually test?

We know that it is crucial for the learning process to consistently develop and assess the listening skill. We must, therefore, have in mind that it is impossible for a test to replicate the circumstances of real-life language use, but it is reasonable to ask to what extent a test (directly or indirectly) elicits from test takers’ mental processes like those that they would use in a real-world situation. This is a critical question in tests that claim to predict how well a candidate will perform in a real-world context, such as an academic institution, a professional position or an immigrant situation.

Cognitive validity is a well-established idea and educational researchers in the U.S. have investigated and questioned the following aspects of testing. Does a test of physics show that the learner can think like a physicist? Does a test of logical thinking test what it claims to test? Does a test in Medicine just show that learners have mastered facts – or does it show that they have the ability to diagnose? These intriguing questions lead us to reflect upon what listening consists of.

According to Mr. Fields, the model of expert listening starts with a speech signal – decoding and word search – and is followed by word parsing – separating the sentences into grammatical parts, such as subject, verb, etc. – which eventually leads to meaning construction. This model may question whether present listening tests / listening tasks materials elicit behavior from the listener that is like real-world listening processes, if they are comprehensive enough to cover most or all of the processes involved in listening, and if they are graded in a way that reflects learners’ development as listeners. He concluded that listening tests / tasks materials provide listeners with scripted (or even semi-scripted) recordings with little resemblance to natural everyday English, actors who mark commas and full stops, lack of hesitations and false starts, quite long utterances and regular rhythm, and voices that do not overlap. Aside from that, test setters sometimes put in distractors, making the recording much more informationally dense than a natural piece of speech would be.

The difficulty lies in the recording itself. Test designers and teachers tend to judge the difficulty of a piece of listening and even what points of the information to focus on by referring to a taspescript. However, these decisions also need to be made when listening to the recording. What parts of the recording (words or points of information) are prominent and easy to recognize? What characteristics of the speakers might make the recording more difficult? To choose recorded materials, teachers  have to take into consideration if it is authentic, recorded, scripted or improvised, analyze how now naturally the speakers include hesitations, for example, how fast they speak, how precisely the speakers form their words, the degree of formality, accents, if it is a dialog/conversation/interview, the frequency of the vocabulary uses, the complexity of grammar, the familiarity with the topic, the length of the recording, how dense the idea units are in the recording, how clearly structured is the overall line of argument and how concrete or abstract are the points made.

Mr. Fields concluded by affirming that conventional formats – multiple choices, gap filling, visual matching, true/false, multiple matching, identifying the speaker who said - require the listener to map from written information to spoken, eliminate negative possibilities as well as identify positive ones (multiple choices and True or False), read and write as well as listen (gap filling), and engage in complex logistical tasks which take us well beyond listening (multiple matching). He also claims that lower level learners understand far less than we assume, listen out for prominent words and try to match them to words in their vocabulary, are dependent on picking up salient words rather than chunks and whole utterances, a tendency that is increased by the use of gap filling tasks that only focus attention on word level.

He finally suggested that we provide items after a first playing of the recording and before a second. This ensures more natural listening without preconceptions or advance information other than the general context.  He insisted that we keep items short, since loading difficulty on to items just biases the test in favor of reading rather than listening. He made sure we use tasks that allow the test setter to ignore the order of the recording and to focus on global meaning rather than local detail. The information provided by Mr. Fields may not be new to many of us, but it always wonderful to listen to a specialist confirm or deny our assumptions, basing his conclusions on accurate research and studies. That is why attending a conference can make a difference in our lives.

Friday, May 03, 2013

Reminiscing on IATEFL 2013

An international teachers' conference makes room for quite a hectic audience. There are English teachers
coming from all corners of the world, all in search of professional growth, new academic ideas and technologies and the acknowledgement of being on the right track regarding teaching and teaching methodologies.

Although there are not many new proposals regarding TEFL for the current tendencies, there is still a lot we
can learn about the teaching of English. In fact, there is always something to learn or recall. One of the lectures I attended and enjoyed very much was Edmund Dudley's "High-achieving Secondary Students". Mr. Dudley is a teacher and teacher trainer working in Hungary. His main concern is to teach the student as a whole. In this process, he focuses on the environment of the class so that it can "nest" students positively and help them overcome any obstacles they may have in the process of learning English. However, he has stated such obstacles may actually not even refer to difficulties in assessing language. It has been the object of Mr. Dudley's studies and involvements the fact that there may be lack of motivation for learning even among those students considered high-achievers. Among the many aspects of teaching pointed by Mr. Dudley, he has suggested that our attitude towards the learning situation be able to bring out the challenge, the relevance, the value and the novelty of lessons. In his presentation, each of these topics was associated with an array of examples and ideas on how to promote creative learning.

Another presentation which was highly motivating for me was Gavin Dudeney's piece on technology. Still a
bit of a challenge to me, technology is more present in our lives on a daily basis than we even realize. Just
as we turn lights on and off, start the car, use the dishwasher, the air-conditioner or heater, or simply change
channels on TV, for example, in quite casually habitual, if not automatic daily attitudes, we also make use
of technology in a much more routine-like manner than we can acknowledge. Most people start their days
making use of the cell phone, smart phones, connections to social networks, or the accessibility to intranet
at work or the Internet for more personal endeavors, to name a few only. Our day is filled with opportunities
for using technology, being the classroom the one place which offers the most fruitful chances for efficacious,
audaciously creative teaching and learning.